Terry Fox

Terry Fox’s “Linkage” intallation occupies three of this museum’s spaces, two of which are accessible. The third can only be peeped into through a window high in the wall of one of the rooms. Viewers must climb a set of stairs and stick their heads through a small square hole; they see three gray boards leading from the floor to a shelf along the left wall. These act as visual markers, directing the eye toward the objects on the end of each board—the familiar image of three monkeys holding their hands over, respectively, their eyes, ears, and mouth (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”); a balanced hammer and sickle with a ten-dollar bill; and a red telephone, or “hot line.” A tape runs an only partially audible text whose pacifist statements, reporting on “arms deals,” “martial law,” and “political ideas,” make it clear that the room is to be understood politically. This sealed room is related, or “linked,” to the large adjacent room in that it forms a resonator for the sounds that visitors to that room make; it also forms a political “foundation” which both influences and is influenced by these sounds. In addition, it comments on political (dis)proportions and plays with the idea of the vulnerability of the human body. It is on the scale of the human body that the sounds in the large room are based.

Among the variety of elements in this part of the installation is a drawing of a figure in a fetal position, which suggests the need for protection and support. A simple stringed instrument, the lengths of whose strings derive from different measurements of the human body, is the core of “Linkage.” Fox has stretched three piano strings from the room’s entrance to the closed doors of the “resonator” space. The strings have been treated with rosin, and the visitor can play them by stroking or rubbing them with fingers or the whole hand; they can also be plucked or struck with mallets. The result is a magnificent spatial sound which can be felt physically—the music not only enters the ear but penetrates the entire body. The whole space becomes a musical instrument which embraces its musicians.

The proportions of this “human lyre” not only correspond to the dimensions of the human body, but are also scaled to the length of the exhibition space; the lengths of the strings are drawn in pencil on a shelf that extends along the right wall. On the underside of a tipped-over chair, Fox has written a rhyme dealing with a headless person who has to write a letter to be read by a blind person and repeated word for word by a mute to a deaf listener. The resulting senselessness (the three monkeys come back to mind) is a central theme of “Linkage”—as is shown even by the dimensions of the room, with its reference, in the lengths of string, both to human proportions and to their fragmentation. A drawing of feet confronts a set of dentures; the crouching figure eyelessly stares at a pair of broken spectacles; the labyrinth of the inner ear is suggested by a spiral-shaped pastry and a piece of corroded wrought iron; and a set of clothes suggesting a human figure is given a newspaper for a head. On the floor, in the midst of this chaos, sits an egg—a symbol of formal perfection; but the egg is constantly threatened by a red weight swinging back and forth above it. And it is probably no coincidence that the string from which the weight hangs yields the shrillest and most unfathomable of the sounds here; power moves quietly, but its music is terrible.

On the back wall hang two hands drawn on wine-colored cloth. The fingers are in a position for playing an instrument, and incline toward each other like the hands of God and Adam in the Sistine Chapel. This delicate drawing suggests that Fox’s music is intended as an integrating tone—a sound that, by embracing people, surrounding and penetrating them, integrates them into a whole. The issue is to become “sensible”; to stand the chair upright, to yield to the sound and to the thought, and to become a human being.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.